Authenticity. It's been the snazzy, big buzzword for the past five years. Article after article has been published about how and why it's a critical key to your success.

You can certainly see multiple examples of the benefits it can have in the market. The food industry in particular. An age-old market with tight, established distributors who have fed the public with mainstay corporate brands for decades, completely disrupted by a new startup player -- entirely based on values and authenticity.

Whole Foods isn't the only example. We're seeing everyone from General Mills to McDonald's offering "natural" food that is "responsibly sourced." It's being driven by the enormous crop of new companies that are taking market share and position simply via their authenticity and promises.

So then, how do you avoid this becoming a fallacy as you scale to be a powerful player without sacrificing your values, your authenticity? I've asked myself this many times as I manage and grow my company.

As a natural food company, our authenticity, maintaining who we are to the core, is essential to our growth and relationship with our consumers.

Here's how we're approaching it at Simple Mills:

We've Nailed Down Brand Tenets Early -- And We're Sticking To Them

We identified what we believe in and what lines we won't cross. Artificial ingredients? Nope. Heavy on the Sugar? Absolutely not. Additives? No, thank you!  We've drawn our lines in the sand -- and we do not cross them.

This is especially helpful to set in place before facing decisions with multi-million dollar potential.

We Have A Battle Plan For "Grey" Decisions

The business world is rarely clear cut or defined. We've set a process for grey decisions, and we strive to never make them in haste.  Our process:

  1. Recognize we're at a grey decision: Is the answer clear? Does it have ethical implications? Is there a chance of negative impact to our customers?
  2. Have the right people involved: For us this means our full leadership team, in person, with undivided attention (no one texting in the corner!).
  3. Give stakeholders the right to veto: While you may be CEO, you have to ensure others have the opportunity to voice discomfort with the decision.
  4. Appropriately weigh the choice: Fully consider all upsides and downsides.  It is easy when faced with a dollar price tag to undervalue the risk.

We Angle Our Trajectory

Don't neglect to align your early business trajectory and plans with the outcome you'd like to see -- and with who. I make it a point to think ahead down to the most finite details, including partners, investors, and vendors who match the values I have.

Leave room for adjustment, but have your plan set early.

We Align The Interests

Investors, shareholders, and others with an interest in your company may want fast results or quick returns. Help them understand your business from the viewpoint of your customer -- and why compromising what the customer needs will hurt your business.

Do this with employees, customers, vendors, and anybody else involved as well.

We Aren't Afraid To Walk

Opportunities might feel like they'll be your last. You might need money, or feel pressure to grow. But sometimes, a fit is not a fit and it's okay to be willing to walk away.

I weigh everything that comes our way carefully, and trust that turning away the wrong opportunities is the right thing no matter how it might look or feel.  Those choices are often the ones that make all the difference.

It's completely possible to adhere to your values and succeed with your business -- but make no mistake, it's not always easy.

But, it can be done, and if you are willing to hold your ground, the benefits are absolutely seen in the long run.

Published on: Aug 9, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.